Chapter One: And so it starts…

When Shikamaru was younger, he thought maybe he would like to meet a nice, regular woman and have nice, regular children. Then, he and his nice, regular wife would grow old watching their nice, regular children grow up and start their own nice, regular families.

This was a lovely little idea that seemed very possible…until, that is, high school happened. And, bad relationships happened. He found himself continually attracting women who weren't even close to his idea of what would make a nice, regular wife. In fact, all the girls he dated probably belonged in strait jackets.

Luckily, because misery loves company and all that jazz, his friends all seemed to be having the same problems. They just couldn't find the right girl, and after several attempts that ended in (he wouldn't say heartbreak, because men hearts didn't break, they were far too manly) suffering, they gave up.

Unofficially, but sort of officially, they gathered at the local basketball court and made the vow to remain bachelors for the rest of their lives before splitting into teams of shirts and skins. However, these young men, like most young men, were quite ignorant of the ways of Love. There was no surer way of falling in love than to proclaim that you would never ever settle down and start a family, or, God forbid, meet the girl of your dreams and love her till the day you die.

Giving up on Love was like directly challenging Love to marry you off despite all your best attempts to prevent feelings of that kind at all. It was your own death sentence. You would be better off just giving in and letting Love put whatever woman in your life that Love so choses to.

But, Shikamaru was stubborn. So, while all of his friends started accidentally meeting women and falling in love, he remained single. He witnessed the sort of women they dated, shrill and nagging like his mother had been. And, because Love was persistent, his so-called bachelor-till-the-end friends began to roll over onto their bellies and marry these shrill and nagging women until only Kiba and he remained.

And that brings us to our current scene: Shikamaru standing behind the altar on aching feet in a tuxedo that was a little too snug. Yes, he was at Kiba's wedding. At age twenty-five, Shikamaru was the only one of his friends who remained single. He was the only one of his friends who didn't have dates for any of the weddings. He was the only one that was accused of being gay (not that there was anything wrong with being gay, but he wasn't).

There's Kiba standing at the altar, grinning like he'd just won the lottery. Stupid, weak Kiba who'd fallen in love and left Shikamaru alone to keep the Bachelor Oath. Shikamaru followed his gaze down the aisle and saw the bride standing at the entrance. The music picked up and she made her slow procession to the altar, with eyes only for the dressed up buffoon who was her groom. Shikamaru hated the both of them and couldn't help but think about how all the marital happiness would be dissolved in a few years. Divorce rates were up recently after all.

The wedding took forever (they always do) and was incredibly corny (they always are). Shikamaru was glad when all the "I do's" and vows had been said and he could stop by the reception for a quick drink and congratulations before he skipped out (like he always did). If he hurried, he could probably catch the end of game.

An over powering scent of flowers blasted him as he opened the door to the reception room. Of course, Mr. Hyuuga hadn't spared any expense in his youngest daughter's marriage and the room was covered in flowers and finery. In the center of the floor was an impressive display of flowers that he would almost call a sculpture, but wasn't sure if that was quite the term for it. Model, perhaps? Well, whatever it was, the smell was so sweet that it made his stomach cramp and churn. Ugh, he'd better just get the congratulations over with.

He swiped a champagne bottle and glass from a passing waiter (he deserved at least that much for the crap he put up with from his oath-breaking friends) and hurried towards the newly married couple, hoping to catch them before any dancing started so he could make his clean escape.

"Hey!" Kiba said exuberantly when he caught sight of Shikamaru. Shikamaru looked for any signs that the strength of the flower's fragrance was bugging him, but the man appeared to be completely and utterly happy and unperturbed. "I was wondering when I'd see you. Preparing to sneak off, are you?"

"You caught me," Shikamaru deadpanned, much too lazy to bother covering his escape. Kiba only laughed. He poured some champagne in the glass and handed it to the bride. "Many congratulations to the two of you, I hope you live happily together till the end of your days." And all that junk.

"Thank you, Shikamaru," Hanabi said with a small curtsey. Kiba laughed again and pulled her in for a kiss. Shikamaru took that as his chance to escape and was out the door with the champagne bottle before they parted.

Once he was out in the open, he sucked in a large breath, glad that he could breathe without feeling like he was going to lose his lunch. Thinking about lunch reminded him that he had passed on the food served at the wedding dinner because it didn't seem to be fit to digest, looking prettier than it tasted.

He switched his direction to the nearest bar, with the thought that he could eat some real (greasy) supper and grab some beer to watch the game on DVR with. Shikamaru was nearly across the parking lot, thoughts of a good rest of the night in his head, when a flower van came hurtling out of nowhere into the parking space just in front of him (or rather, the two parking spaces in front of him, because whoever was driving parked sloppily in the middle). He lurched back, startled that he was just almost squashed into a pancake, when the driver of the van flew out of the seat, and totally disregarded him as she hurried across the street.

Disgruntled that she didn't even apologize, Shikamaru followed after her. He caught up with her on the sidewalk, grabbing her shoulder and spinning her around, "Hey, Lady."

"What?" she asked, breathlessly, looking back at her destination impatiently "Is this about the parking job? Disregard it, I'm only returning this movie. It's due in two minutes!"

She tapped the screen of her cell phone, which had a picture of her sitting in a beach chair in a swim suit with a big black dog (a rather fetching picture, Shikamaru admitted…to himself) and large, boldface numbers that said, "11:58." Then, as if this settled everything, she turned on her heel and continued her rush to the video store.

"But you just…," he started to protest, but she held up a finger to silence him.

"Could you wait just a second? I'm on a deadline at the moment," she said, still walking and still not facing him. He stopped following her and watched as she dropped the movie into the return box.

He was considering just going on to the bar when she flicked back her long blonde hair and gestured at him impatiently, "Well, come on."

Shikamaru shrugged his shoulders to no one in particular and, maybe against his better judgment (what the heck, he might get a free movie or meal out of this), followed the blonde into the video store.

They walked down several aisles, the blonde's eyes moving rapidly over the shelves of movies. Occasionally she would pause and read the back of one, but then would return it to the shelf. After approximately six minutes of this, Shikamaru began to wonder why he was even there, "What're you doing?"

"Uhm, looking for movies," the girl said like he was stupid.

Frustrated, he forced himself to take a deep breath before saying, "No, why did you tell me to follow you?"

"Well, you seemed to have something important to say to me," she said, stopping to read the back of a movie. "So, what're you waiting for?"

"Oh, uh, I was going to tell you that you nearly hit me back there," Shikamaru said a bit lamely (a lot, more likely).

"Oh," she held the movie up for his inspection. "What do you think of this one?"

"It looks like a low budget romance that's probably overtly corny and not worth the two dollars it'll cost to rent a night," he said honestly (while honestly thinking why he was even bothering with this lady…she obviously didn't care that she had almost hit him). Then, "Well?"

"Well, what kind of movies do you like? Comedy? Horror? Thrillers? Action?" she asked, pointing to their corresponding sections. With a wry grin she added, "Romances?"

"I like the first four you mentioned, though I prefer thrillers. I also like mysteries…hang on! You've yet to say anything about nearly running me down out there!"

"Wait, so now I nearly ran you down? Way to be melodramatic! I…is that champagne? Why didn't you say anything about having champagne? Ooh, and it's the really expensive kind!" she said, her anger fading quickly as she gushed over the designer bottle of wine.

"Lady, are you going to apologize or not?" Shikamaru asked, squeezing the bridge of his nose. Stupid people made his head hurt. That's why he couldn't spend too much alone time with Naruto. Shikamaru was a lazy person, but a person who is exposed to too much Naruto in too little of a time has all the motivation in the world to (despite how much work it'd take to cover it up) murder him.

"Look, maybe we got off on the wrong foot. You're wearing all black, you know, so it's very hard to see you in the dark. Anyway, my name isn't Lady. It's Ino. And, I like champagne. A lot. And, I was already planning on making it up to you. Yeesh, you need to learn some patience," the girl, Ino, said.

Shikamaru crossed his arms and asked (a bit hesitantly), "What did you have in mind?"

She sighed heavily, "I figured I could rent you a movie, since this store was conveniently over here. And, I'm guessing you've been at the wedding and haven't really eaten supper."

"I haven't," he said, not really sure if the benefit of a free meal was worth spending more time with this girl. Maybe she would take pity on him and give him a gift card or something.

"Let's pick something out, then," she said, dragging Shikamaru behind her as she left the (corny, stupid, torturous, horrid, unmanly) romance section. After twenty minutes of debate, in which he felt his head was going to explode from her close scrutiny and particularity with every option, they had finally decided on a comedy slash adventure slash romance (he didn't really agree with the last part, but he was would watch any piece of crap if it meant he didn't have to endure another twenty minutes of indecisiveness).

"This is going to be great. I've wanted to see this movie for so long," she gushed as they crossed the street again with linked arms. She insisted that since he was dressed the part of a gentleman, then he should escort her like one. Shikamaru was becoming increasingly worried about where they were going to watch the movie. Was she going to trick him back to her place and try to sink her manicured nails into him forever so that he'd be the next one going down the aisle?

He glanced at her and thought that, while she looked pretty pleasing, her personality didn't quite agree with him. Besides, he had an oath to keep.

Shikamaru realized that she was still talking, "I'm glad you'll be here to watch it with me. Waiting for these things to get over is so boring. They drag on way too long into the night."

"We're watching it in here?" Shikamaru asked, pointing at the mud and dust stained rear windows of the flower van. In barely legible letters it read, "Yamanaka's Flower Shoppe" above the handles.

Ino swung open the back doors and gestured grandly at the gloomy depths within, "Of course! Haven't you ever viewed a movie at this venue? You can get right up close to the screen and the company is great."

His eyes adjusted to the darkness and he could see several empty racks lining the sides and a few empty flower pots strewn about them and the floor. In the way front, secured to the back of the driver and passenger seats was an old looking TV hooked up to a VCR and DVD player.

Ino climbed in and amended, "It may not be the most sophisticated set up, but it makes do."

Shikamaru followed her in but stopped short of the bean bag chair. Ino was already leaned against it, getting the movie out of the case. When she noticed that he was still standing awkwardly behind her, she gave him a curious glance and asked, "What?"

"Is there anywhere else to sit?"

She laughed, "I don't have cooties, you chicken."

With a 'humph' he settled down beside her. After the movie started, she snatched the champagne away from him and asked, "You want to play a game?"

"Not really," he deadpanned.

Usually girls would get the hint and leave him alone after a terse response as such, but she only laughed again. Her head must be too thick for anything to get through. "Okay, here's the rules. You guess something about me, and, if you're right, then I have to take a drink. But, if you're wrong, then you have to take two drinks. And, vice versa."

"No," he said in the same monotone voice.

She continued to ignore him, "Hm, I bet that you were one of the groomsmen at the wedding tonight."

"…"

"Well," she pressed, "am I right?"

"Yes," Shikamaru said, mostly out of hope that she would leave him alone.

"Ha, success! You have to take a drink," Ino trumpeted.

"Aren't we supposed to be watching the movie?" he asked with a sigh, not taking the bottle she was offering.

She pushed it at him again, "Come on. Take a drink, you have to."

"No."

"Oh, I see how it is. You're too afraid to lose to a girl," Ino taunted.

Shikamaru didn't want her to think her goading was working, but he was tired of her pushiness and took the bottle with a sigh. Maybe the game would die out after a few rounds. He took a drink, enjoying the taste of it. "Don't you think it's not very classy to play drinking games with champagne?"

She shrugged, "Everything's classier when champagne is involved."

"Fair enough," he said, passing the bottle back to her. She shook her head and refused to accept it back. "What?"

"You have to ask a question now," Ino snuggled further into the bean bag and gave him a raised eye brows look as if she didn't expect him to get it right.

"I bet that you have a big, black dog," Shikamaru said. The surprised fall in her expression made him grin (and maybe snicker a bit). The shocked look turned into a scowl, and she took her required drink. "What's her name?"

"His. His name is Hiro," she said. She tapped her finger to her chin while she thought of her guess. She bolted upright after a moment, "Wait. I just realized that I don't even know your name."

He knew that social etiquette called for him to respond with his name, but that would be forming an acquaintance and he didn't care to know her for longer than tonight. One look was enough to tell him that she was troublesome. And, women were never worth the trouble.

"Fine, if you won't tell me then…I bet your name is Akira," she said.

Shikamaru snorted, "No."

She shrugged her shoulders again and drank from the bottle without complaint.

Then, it was his turn again. He had no idea what to ask, so he grasped at the first one that came to his mind, "I bet your hair color is fake."

"No!" Ino said, touching her ponytail defensively. "This is one hundred percent natural. I would never damage my hair by using dyes."

"Hey, the guess was valid. Not very many blondes these days are true ones," he said.

"I guess that makes me a rare commodity," she said with a sniff. "Drink up."

He did.

The rest of the game continued the same way.

"I bet your name is Kazuo."

"No. I bet you didn't go to college."

"I did. I bet your name is Takashi."

"Nope. I bet you majored in something stupid. Like, Art."

"Why are you so mean with your questions? I did, but I focused on how art affects the mind, especially in those with mental illness. I bet your name is Toshio."

"No. And, I never said I was nice. If you were a more cautious driver, you wouldn't have to deal with me in the first place. I bet you watch soap operas."

"No, I don't waste my time on those repetitive plot lines. I like corny romances far better. I bet your name is Masao."

"No. Since you'll never guess on your own, my name is Shikamaru."

"You forgot to make a guess."

"I bet that you wanted to be a singer or a model when you were younger."

"Both, actually. I bet you were named after your father."

"Yes. I bet that you have a younger sibling that you compete with for attention."

"Nope, I'm an only child. I bet you had a date tonight, but ditched her at the reception."

"No, I don't care for dates. And, I'm not that much of a jerk to ditch her if I did."

"You don't care for dates? I bet you're a closet gay."

"Not even close. I bet you've gotten taken home by the police before."

"No, I was a good child, mostly. I bet your parents are divorced."

"They're still happily together, for some crazy reason. What about you? I bet your parents are divorced."

"No, but it's just my dad and I, anymore. I bet you had your heart broken by a girl, and that's why you're so mean."

"Men hearts don't break. But, I did have a bad break up. I bet you were Prom Queen."

"That's actually very nice of you. Maybe you're not such a bad person after all. And, yes. Yes, I was. I bet you…"

There was sharp rap on the van doors. Ino held the bottle up to the TV light and Shikamaru saw that it was nearly all gone. "What is it?"

"We're ready for you to pack up," came a man's voice. Ino sighed and set the champagne bottle on an upturned flower pot.

The van doors opened up to display Neji in the soft light of the parking lot lights, and Shikamaru felt his eyes automatically narrow. No matter that the offence had happened four years ago, the pain still felt fresh. He focused on smoothing his expression and crawled out of the van after Ino.

"I thought you'd left already," Neji said when he spotted Shikamaru. "Kiba said you'd gone home early, like usual."

"I was on my way home, but this crazy woman driver nearly ran me down," Shikamaru said, jabbing a thumb in Ino's general direction and ignoring her annoyed scowl.

Neji lifted his eyebrows, looking amused, and then headed back to the reception hall without another word. Ino wasted no time turning to him and berating him, "You're more dramatic than any girl I know, you realize that?"

"Whatever," he said, digging his hands into his pockets and following Neji's trail.

"Wait!" Ino ran to catch up with him. "Are you going to help me pack up?"

"I was just going to wait inside while you packed up. It's kind of chilly, so I wasn't going to wait in the car while the heat's off. Don't forget you still owe me a dinner," Shikamaru said.

Ino frowned deeply, "Pfft, figures. You're as lazy as you look! Don't you know anything about chivalry?"

"Don't you know anything about parking?"

"Ugh! There's no talking to you!"

She crossed her arms tightly across her chest and didn't say anything for the remaining walk to the door. It was a nice change, but Shikamaru was sure it wasn't a long-term change. He wondered at women's need to fill silence with unneeded (and unwanted) talk while holding the door open for her. The small gesture of kindness wasn't enough to melt the frosty look on her face.

He watched as she began to move some of the pots near the doorway. It looked like a lot of work, and he knew it was the guy code to help, but it was also her job. He wasn't going to do the work and then let her get paid for it. No way. He hardly wanted to do his own job.

Several of the Hyuuga males returned to the reception hall, packing up other things. Ino suddenly (mysteriously) had troubles with the pots. One of the Hyuugas noticed and wandered her way.

"Hey, do you need help with those pots, Miss…," said the Hyuuga.

"Ino," Ino said, pushing her hair out of her face and looking up at him through her lashes. "And, I wouldn't want to be a bother."

"Oh, don't worry about it," the man said, flexing his muscles. "We're pretty much finished with what we need to do. We wouldn't mind helping you, would we?"

The others in his group agreed and Ino smiled sweetly and thanked them. Shikamaru watched the men gather up the pots and bring them out to the van under Ino's direction. When all the pots were placed in their rightful spots on the shelves, and the men had departed with nothing much more than another smile from the crafty blonde, Shikamaru clapped his hands.

"What?" she said, making a face.

"Bravo," Shikamaru said, still clapping his hands. "You sure have the feminine wiles down pat. That's one of the reasons I don't waste my time dating. Women are evil."

"You've yet to see the extent of my powers," she said, wiggling her fingers sarcastically on the last word. Shikamaru had never met a woman before who was so immune to his terse and deadpan (and often rude) manner. "Follow me."

He was curious, so he followed her back into the hall. She strode straight up to one of the waiters, who smiled when he saw her coming.

"Could you tell me the brand of champagne that was served tonight? It was the best I've had in a long time," Ino said, doing the whole looking-up-through-her-lashes-that-are-also-fluttering-in-a-pleasant-manner thing.

Shikamaru watched with shocked awe, as the waiter offered to do better than just telling her the brand, taking her to the back to see the stock, and then giving her five bottles of the expensive champagne.

When they were back in the van, leaning against the beanbag, Shikamaru let out a low whistle, "You're scary."

Ino laughed and opened the lid, "Care to finish our game?"

"No. I hate the game," Shikamaru said.

"I bet you had a stuffed animal you couldn't sleep without when you were a child."

"I said no. Feed me, already, woman."

"Once again, the name is Ino. Answer the question."

"A deer. I bet you're not really planning to feed me."

Ino sighed and stood up. She disappeared out of his vision, and he didn't bother to sit up to keep her in sight, "You have a one track mind."

"One track stomach. You promised food, now make good on the deal."

She reappeared with two small bowls, "I packed for the weekend. So this one's my supper for Sunday. I can pack another, I guess."

The lid opened to reveal salad. Salad? Shikamaru felt like he'd been tricked. He had not gone to the bar, played this stupid bet game with her, let her drink his champagne, for salad?

"When you said food, I thought you really meant food," Shikamaru said with a sniff.

"That is real food. Food that's good for you. You know, your young-guy metabolism won't stay with you forever. You'll be a victim of the spare tire, if you're not careful," she lectured. "I always make sure to eat healthy. It's all about the food groups. The vegetables are the one of the most important and the most ignored. People don't like them for some reason."

"If I eat it will you shut up?"

"Maybe."

So he ate the food. And, then, they drank champagne. Lots and lots of champagne. Shikamaru laughed giddily as he leaned back into the beanbag. Ino looked over at him with a half-lidded expression and he thought that her lips looked like they wanted to be kissed. He moved a little to act on this impulse, but then something else in his mind told him it was a bad idea.

She struggled with something in her pocket, and he realized he was really tired. He stretched out and closed his eyes. Just before drifting off he heard her say, "Hey, Daddy? Could you come get me? I'm drunk."